“Weakness” – Honorable Mention

I recently won another Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future short story contest!

To celebrate, I want to share the story with all of you. So, without further ado, please enjoy my short story “Weakness.”

Weakness

by Shami Stovall

 

“This is your last chance, Metallo,” the alpha says, his breath hot and misty on the evening winds.

I shudder under the gaze of the pack. Each member regards me with disappointment or disgust. I don’t blame them. For the last seven nights in a row, I’ve failed to return with offerings for the newborn pups and their mother. It’s a disgrace.

“This hunt will be different,” I reply, lifting my head and keeping my ears erect. “This time I won’t fail you.”

Any other brother with my track record would have been thrown from the pack after the second hunt, but Ba’al and I are of the same litter. Despite his position as the alpha, he clings to our history. I see it in his black eyes as he stares down at me—not with hate, but with sympathy.

Ba’al takes in a deep breath and exhales. No one speaks as they wait for his decree. I watch the others shift across the rocks through thick shadows to get a better look, but none jump down to my level.

I am alone. The only failure.

“There is a herd of man in the valley,” Ba’al drawls. “They bring with them sheep, chickens, goats, and pigs. They also bring dogs—nothing but weak beasts—and I know you will be successful if you raid their home under the light of our Goddess’s moon.”

I bow my head. His orders are a gift. Ba’al could have assigned me any creature in our territory, but the herds of man are known for being stationary. Unlike the caribou and elk, which travel with the sun and seasons, there is little risk of losing my hunt.

And it is a hunt I can do alone, unlike the hoofed prey we stalk as a pack.

“Thank you, Ba’al,” I say.

“Go then, Metallo. I will see you at the breaking of the day, or never again. Do I make myself clear?”

“I understand.”

“Good.”

He huffs his final word and turns away. The others join him, leaving me to travel down the rocky slopes of our mountain alone. The solitary aspect of my mission is worse than the task. Deep down, I yearn for company, but the past three winters have been hard. The less useful I become, the more my brothers alienate themselves from me.

I shake the thoughts from my head and begin my trek.

The moonlight shadows between crags answer my summons as I slip from one lane of darkness to the other. Magic bends away the light and keeps me hidden, though no beast ventures into our pack’s mountain haven. I use my void walking not because I have to, but because I wish to practice. With my skills, I should have no problem overcoming the herds of man.

At the foot of our home, where the rocks meet the forest, I smell a member of my pack upwind. I stop and stand proud, my chest out and my black fur sleek. Who has come to meet me?

“Metallo,” a voice whispers up from the darkness. “I hear you’ve failed many hunts.”

I snort and turn away, familiar with the tone. I don’t have to answer to Salicar, not when he is the fool of our pack. His place as lookout and craven has long been cemented. While I must hunt, he is to stay in the safety of our mountain’s shadow. He knows little of my troubles and will no doubt mock me for my failures.

Salicar steps from the darkness and takes his place in the glory of the moonlight. His black fur—same as all from our pack—is matted and bunched, but underneath he retains some bulk, even if he isn’t needed for the hunts. He trots over to my side and keeps his head low to show submission, but the grin on his face betrays his disrespect.

“Would you let the pups go hungry if they were your own?” Salicar asks. “Not that you will ever have any, of course. The mighty beget strength, but the failures… well, we know what they pass to their children, don’t we?”

I ignore him and continue on. There’s no need to engage him in conversation.

Salicar, no doubt displeased with my silence, snaps at the heels of my back legs and I jump around with a snarl, flashing my fangs and causing the fur along my spine to stand on end. The coward crouches down and rolls to his side, tucking his tail between his legs and capitulating to my anger. When he doesn’t move, I regain my composure and stand back with a forced casual posture, resting my weight evenly on all four feet.

“Know your place,” I growl.

Again, I turn away and continue toward my destination.

Salicar stands, his black eyes reflecting against the moon to create two discs of iridescent light. “Careful,” he whispers. “If you become a rogue, the pack won’t be there to save you from starvation. The mountain will reclaim your shadow.”

I say nothing and instead dash into the gloom that permeates the forest. The evening winds rustle the leaves and agitate the sleeping birds. The sounds of wings, the crunch of detritus, and the howl of the breeze mix together in my ears into a single cacophony. It messes with my concentration and disorients me. I stop between two red cedar trees and close my eyes.

My ears hurt at all times. All sounds drill into my mind and I get dizzy. I try to ignore it—with all my might, with all my willpower—but it is a weakness I cannot overcome through fortitude alone.

The others of my pack know nothing of it, and when I was younger it didn’t stop me from hunting, but now the problem bears down on me with a soul-crushing force. How can I hunt when my ears cause me such pain?

I take in a deep breath and resume my travels at a slow pace. One or two sounds don’t bother me, but the moment I hear my own running I begin to fall prey to lightheadedness.

Although I amble, the moon and stars keep me company. The scents of man linger on the air. Smoke. Wood. Fresh earth. Man alters the land in such a way that my pack can smell them from miles away. Such odd creatures. They remind me of the bee and spider—building things to live in. Perhaps man is another form of insect.

The shadows move around my feet, offering me aid and keeping my soft steps silent.

Despite the length of time it takes me to cross the forest, I reach the other end before the midnight sets upon me. I cannot dawdle if I hope to make it back to Ba’al before the breaking of the day.

Scanning the valley below, I spot the herds of man with little difficulty. They keep fires and their nests are large. The smell of a hundred animals wafts up on the breeze to my wet nose. As a pack, hunting the herds of man is dangerous. The more of us, the more likely we are to be seen. As a solitary predator, I should be able to stalk a single beast and retreat without notice.

I creep down the hill and into the valley, slithering through the shadows like water running through the furrow of its river. Animals sleep in confined spaces—trapped by wooden posts—and I stealth to the nearest cage of goats. My magic over the darkness allows me to slink through any crevasse a shade could slip into, but I cannot mold my kill with such fluidity. If I am to retrieve a goat, I must have a way to pull it from the confinement.

A small pack of three dogs rounds the far corner of the cage and I freeze. The beasts have floppy ears and long snouts. Hounds. Capable hunters, but nothing compared to my might and magic. Perhaps I should kill one of them and be done with it, even if their meat is vile.

Before I can pounce, the dumb beasts take off into the distance, running at full tilt. I stay hidden by the darkness and watch as a man follows behind them, his two legs much slower than their four. The man holds a stick and shouts. It agitates me to see such commotion and not know what is happening. I wait, curious.

The loud bang that cracks the quiet of the night sky shatters my hearing. I yelp and jump away from the herd of man, my ears ringing. The dogs bark and the man continues to shout, adding to my confusion.

Another bang. And then another.

Each time I hear the terrible noise, a burst of light emanate from the man’s stick. Such fell magic. It frightens me, but not as much as my own failing body. The dogs are not bothered by the thunder and crack. They act as though nothing unusual is happening.

Soon the man and the dogs are climbing the hill to the forest. In the shadows I spot the fowl-loving canine that is the object of man’s deep hatred—a fox.

Stumbling forward, I attempt to return to the cage of goats, but even they are agitated and bleat together in a terrible chorus. All the sounds swirl around me. It hurts so much I retreat a second time, disgusted with myself. I am a failure, unable to handle even the simplest of tasks.

Perhaps it is my time to die.

The thought sends ice through my blood.

Even our Goddess’s moon wanes and dies, only to be reborn again. Perhaps it is better that I embrace my fate and return again next winter, with a new batch of pups. If I cannot kill a simple goat because of its whimpering cry, how am I to hunt for the pack? They have no need of me. I am a burden.

The realization calms my dread, but my heart beats twice as fast. I’m not old enough to die. I would need to facilitate my passing. No eating. No drinking.

And if I do not return to Ba’al, I will be deemed a rogue. Unable to return to the pack and forced to die away from all others.

Alone.

The man and his dogs storm down the hill, returning without their fox. I don’t have the urge or willpower to deal with man’s magic. Instead, I shift into the shadows and travel back to the forest, intent to find a place to rest my broken body.

The comforting darkness of the trees welcomes me. Dying away from the pack will be hard—the hardest part of my passing—but the cool evening winds will soothe the pain.

“Please, Mother Goddess,” I whisper. “Guide me tonight… I’m lost and struggling to find purpose.”

I stare at the sky through the cracks in the canopy above. The flecks of light from the stars shimmer down. I follow what little light the moon offers until I spot a grove of trees surrounding a clearing. I head there at a slow pace, wondering if this is where the Goddess wishes me to die. As I walk to the edge of the clearing, however, I detect a faint smell on the air.

A feline.

I stand tall, my ears forward, and stare at a pure white cat seated perfectly in the center of the clearing. She is the small type of feline—a creature found in the herds of man. Her short fur, so sleek and clean, reflects the gentle glow of the moon, illuminating her like a star in the sky. She licks at her front paw, no fear about her, and then rubs her forearm across her face.

Her ear twitches and turns toward me, but the feline never faces me directly.

“Hello?” she says. “Is someone there?” Her voice is soft and clear, not loud, but distinct. She has no rush in speaking, as though nothing worries her.

I take two more steps forward, my muscles tense and my mouth salivating. Perhaps this is a gift from the Goddess herself—a star sent to Earth so that I may kill it and return with an offering. A lowly creature such as this would never stray so far from the protection of man unless it was the Goddess’s wish.

“Hello?” the cat repeats. “I know someone is there. Why won’t you answer me?”

The feline turns to face me and I freeze up. Her eyes are wide and glazed over with a milky film of white.

She’s blind.

When I remain silent, she tilts her head and her ears twitch as though straining. “I mean you no harm. There’s no need to be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” I murmur. There’s no reason to answer her, but confusion and curiosity still my attack. Does she think I fear her? She is the one that should be afraid.

“My name is Lunette,” she says with a weary smile. “What should I call you?”

“Metallo.”

“Oh, my. Such a fascinating name, Metallo. I have never heard it. Are you new to the herd of man? Let me guess—you are a sheep? I never got to know the names of the sheep.”

“Can you not smell what I am?”

I take another step closer, inches from her small sitting form, and I know I reek of aggression. Any beast this close should know my true nature.

“My nose works as well as my eyes, I’m afraid.” She licks at her paw and then rubs her pure white nose. Everything about her is white, save the soft pink pads of her feet.

“I am… a goat.”

Why do I lie? I don’t know. Something about this encounter makes me wish it will continue, and telling her that she stands before the maw of death will surely end all discussion.

“A goat?” Lunette says with a gentle laugh. “What silly creatures you are, wandering so far from the others when you have plenty of food in the heart of the herd!”

“Silly indeed.”

“But you should be careful, Metallo.”

“Careful?” I ask, looming over her. She’s so small; I could crunch her in half with one bite.

“Yes,” she says, her tone shifting to one of concern. “These woods are filled with shaheen—wolves that have taken the Oath of Shadows. It is the edge of winter, their time of newborns. They are surely lurking in the darkness of the night. If you are not careful, you will fall victim to their magic.”

“You know a great deal about the shaheen. I’m… surprised.”

Lunette giggles and rolls onto her back. “Surprised? All hunters who wander the forest must know of the dangers. Then again, I suppose goats do not need to know the details. Only that the woods are perilous.”

“You consider yourself a hunter?”

She lies back and stops her giggling. Her tail swishes back and forth. “It does not matter what I consider myself.”

“If you fear the shaheen, why are you here?”

“I do not fear the shaheen. I have come here to die.”

I catch my breath and hesitate. “Die?”

“That’s right.” She sits back up and brushes the leaves from her elegant coat. “I am… Well, I have a weakness that invites predators. And come spring, when it’s time for mating, I will no doubt spread my weakness to my kittens.” She curls her tail around her feet and “stares” at the ground. “My sire led me here instead of killing me outright. I’ve treasured what short time I’ve had. It’s more than I deserve.”

“So you sit and wait for death?”

“Acceptance is what keeps me here. There are some things in life you cannot change.”

“Then you need not wait any longer,” I drawl. “I am a shaheen. I will end your life.”

Lunette giggles, her velvet voice echoing between the trees. “Oh, Metallo, you are silly indeed! You make me wish I had more time to get to know you.”

“You doubt my claim?”

“You walked into the clearing with a slow gait and hesitant step. Shaheen don’t move without purpose. I would have been dead the moment we met. Why do you jest?”

“I never jest.”

She giggles again, this time with a purr. I wait as she stands—her long tail straight up—and she tilts her head from side to side, attempting to engage me in play. “What games do goats know?” she asks as she bats forward with a paw. “I will show you how cats play. We don’t have the bells that man brings me, but anything that makes noise will do. It’s so fun to chase! You will forget all worries.”

I snort and turn away. “I am too old to play.”

“This way, Metallo! I hear something!”

Lunette pounces onto a small patch of grass. A cricket leaps into the air and lands a foot away. After a moment, it sings with its legs and Lunette waggles in anticipation. She pounces, giggling the entire time, and the creature easily evades her—she has no real aim and her jovial laughing destroys all craftiness.

Despite that, she leaps again and lands on the creature, no doubt an accident, but still. Instead of eating it, like she should, Lunette stands and allows the cricket to jump away. She waggles again, a smile on her blind feline face as she prepares to leap, content to chase the insect in a game that could last forever.

To my surprise, I have an urge to join in and forget the woes of the night. Lunette makes forgetting a tangible reality. Her reservation is lost in giggles, erased by the happiness she now exudes.

“Come, Metallo! You should try. I hear goats can—” She cuts herself short and lifts her head. Her ears jerk from one side to the other and her tail puffs to twice its size. “Metallo,” she whispers. “I’m sorry, but…  You need to go.”

I stiffen and glance around. The wind brings with it a stillness that betrays the presence of predators.

“A shaheen is coming,” Lunette says as she walks back to the center of the clearing, her reserved and calm demeanor once again taking hold. “I can hear it. He’s close. Go now, before it’s too late.”

I hear nothing. My ears are terrible, and a slight ringing persists from earlier.

But I heed her command and walk out of the clearing, stopping at the edge beyond the tree line. Lunette inhales and exhales while smoothing the fur on her tail. She holds herself proud, ready for death.

Isn’t that why I came here? I watch her with great interest. Happiness came to her so easily. She’s young, not yet old enough to mother kittens, but close. Too young. But her life is a burden. She will neither hunt on her own, nor bear healthy offspring.

The shadows shift and stretch to the clearing. A shaheen steps out of them, seemingly rising up out of the earth, and stands at the opposite end of the grove. His grey and brown coat marks him as different—a member of a foreign pack. He crouches to lunge, but stops after a single inhale.

He knows I’m here.

I step out of my hiding spot and face him. He smells of desperation. He didn’t travel this far from his pack because he wanted to. He traveled this far because he’s starving.

For a moment, we regard each other, but a second later, he flashes his fangs and fills the clearing with a guttural growl, warning me away with his ears pressed flat against his skull. What a brazen, audacious statement. This is not his territory, and his presence is an assault on me and my brothers.

I step farther into the clearing, my blood hot and my mind narrowing to focus on one thing—killing him.

Lunette doesn’t move.

I leap over the feline and clash with the other shaheen, my teeth digging into his ears and face. He lashes at me with a bite, catching the scruff of fur around my neck, but nothing vital. We break apart and jump at each other again. When we collide, I slam him with my chest and dig my front claws into his legs. I’m larger, heavier, and older. With my advantage, I topple him to his side, ignoring his teeth digging into my leg and drawing blood.

Once he’s under me, I bite down on the base of his throat. Our growling and half barks of rage buzz in my ears, confusing me, so I hold my bite with all my might, refusing to let go of my advantage. Blood fills my mouth and I thrash my head from side to side, destroying as much flesh as possible. The younger shaheen uses all four of his feet to claw at my underbelly, but still I persist. I feel his muscles ripping, and soon I hear his wet rasps of breath.

He yipes and stills himself, yielding to my brute force.

It’s against the laws of nature for a shaheen bound to a different shadow to consume outsiders. I could kill him and leave his corpse, but I throw him away by the grip on his neck, and he staggers to his feet. Without uttering a word, he scurries into the darkness, forfeiting the grove to me and trailing a line of blood through the grass.

Triumphant, I take a moment to breathe deep. The sweet rush of victory leaves me hungry. I turn to see Lunette never ran. She sits, like before, in the middle of the clearing, her milky eyes vacant.

I wait, but she says nothing.

The sky is lighter, and the stars begin to disappear. If I run, I could make it back to Ba’al and the others before it is too late. I step up to the feline and she crouches down, pressing her belly against the dirt.

“You really are a shaheen,” she whispers.

For the first time since I entered the grove, she smells of fear.

Why would the Goddess create such a creature? And why would the Goddess lead me to her? There are signs and omens in this world I do not understand, yet I feel drawn to them, like birds that migrate to the place of their birth no matter the storms in their way.

The wind sweeps between us and I watch Lunette shiver. I lean down and clamp my maw around her midsection, gently easing my teeth against her soft fur. She mews once as I pick her up, her legs dangling, and I carry her from the grove. I feel her frantic heartbeat through my tongue, and for a brief thought, I consider crunching down, but I resist the urge.

Even if I killed her and brought her back to the pack, it would not solve my weakness. It would persist, and by the next moon I would return to this grove looking for another quick death. Instead, I pick the foolish option and decide to take her.

I rush through the trees of the forest—far from my mountain, far from the herds of man—and head straight for the northern river, the edge of my pack’s territory. My balance is off thanks to my ears, and my front leg is filled with pain due to the foreign shaheen. Regardless, I press on, slower than I like, trailing a thin line of blood, but ultimately leaving the valley I know so well.

Past the darkness of the thickets, past the mushrooms that grow on thick logs, past the berry bushes that attract small woodland creatures—beyond all that is the river. The flowing water beckons me when I draw near, but I don’t have time to take a drink. Instead, I get a running start and leap, the last of the moonlight shadows propelling me over and guaranteeing I make it across the ten feet of water separating me from the other side.

I land hard, my jaw closing slightly, and Lunette offers another mew. I ease up, certain I didn’t puncture her, and hobble forward. My front leg hits the dirt too hard; it practically gives out under me with each and every step.

The day breaks the night as the sun rises over the horizon. I stagger my way into a grouping of bushes and stop, releasing Lunette from my maw and panting. She doesn’t move as she listens as distant howls fill the air.

I listen as well—the songs of the shaheen carry for long distances.

“Shaheen,” she whispers, curling in on herself. “They’re crying.”

“They’re mourning my death,” I say through deep breaths. Ba’al’s song is clearer than the rest, and I take in the notes with a heavy heart. Even my broken ears pick up the edge of sorrow that lines each howl.

“Your death?”

“I am dead to them. Just as you are dead to your family.”

Lunette shivers again, despite the warm blanket of light offered to us by the sun. I scoop her up in my mouth and she doesn’t protest.

My Oath to the Shadows provides me magic only when the sun is set and the night reigns supreme. Under the warmth of a new day, I am weaker. With each step my legs threaten to quit, but I continue on regardless. The morning rays light the way through the sparse forest. The lands beyond the river aren’t as fertile.

My thoughts slip as I walk. Pain and uncertainty consume my being. My solace comes in the form of new sights and smells. I haven’t been to these lands since my youth, and I remember little.

I stop, unable to continue, and release Lunette from my maw. I would sleep, but the icy fear of the unknown keeps me awake.

Lunette doesn’t run, but she does lick her coat and straighten her fur. When the wind picks up, she shivers. I move closer to her and wrap my tail around her side. As a shaheen, the nip and sting of winter matters little. I’ve never warmed a feline—her scent stirs urges of the hunt—but I ignore them in favor of resting.

With each blink of my eyes, time passes faster and faster. I fear I am drifting in and out of sleep, but I never lie down.

Morning.

Noon.

I catch myself from falling over, jerking my whole body awake at once. When I open my eyes, I’m greeted with the fiery orange of dusk. It takes a moment to shake the grogginess from my mind.

Lunette is gone. I stretch and then scratch my face and neck, grimacing as my back claws catch the open cuts left by my fight. Irritated and uncertain, I glance around. Where is she?

I spot her before I call out. She sits next to a defoliating mulberry bush, its red leaves highlighting her brilliant white, and the tip of her tail twitches in rhythm. Her head is down and her ears stiff. I approach slow and cautious, thankful she hasn’t attracted a predator.

“Do you hear it, Metallo?” she whispers.

“Hear what?” I ask.

“The field mice.”

I listen. Nothing. “No.”

“They’re digging. Right here. Underfoot.”

“Are you certain?”

“As certain as the setting of the sun.”

Though I hear nothing, I dig my claws into the packed earth and rip up the dirt with a few powerful motions, throwing the excess dirt between my back legs. Sure enough, I smell the thick musk of a mouse den waft up from the new hole and I ram my muzzle as deep as I can. When I feel the frantic movements of mice, I bite hard. The rodent caught in my teeth attempts to return the favor, but I pull it from its home and crunch it in my jaws, killing the creature instantly.

Its hot blood and soft body are refreshing. The sweet taste goes down smooth as I swallow the tiny beast whole. The others scurry away.

Lunette tilts her head from side to side. “Are all shaheen so selfish?”

“Do you expect me to share such a small meal?”

She says nothing and I’m reminded of our size difference. The mouse may have been enough to keep her full for the day, but it only whets my appetite.

“Do shaheen form packs with different animals? Like how man collects beasts of all creeds for their herd?”

“No,” I say as I lick the excess blood from my lips.

“You’re sillier than I first imagined, Metallo. Why did you take me beyond the river?”

“The Goddess spoke to me. If we both were drawn to the grove to die, perhaps we were meant to do so together.”

“But you did not kill me.”

“I did not say we need die now.”

Lunette doesn’t reply to my statement. Instead, she stares, vacantly, at the hole in the ground. After a few moments, she smiles. “Then perhaps you can tell me how shaheen play. I am so very curious. I’ve never spoken with one before.”

Tsk. This cat wants nothing more than games. I suppose that’s all the young are concerned with, but still. I snort back a laugh as I remember the games of my youth. “There is a game we would play as pups that involved digging.”

I turn around and dig again, this time flinging dirt in globs over the bemused feline. She jumps up, her back arched and her fur on end. She walks her back legs forward, keeping her side to me in order to appear “bigger,” but it doesn’t make much of a difference.

“It took me the good part of the afternoon to clean my fur,” she huffs. “I had to remove your slobber and now I’m dirty!”

Lunette’s puffed tail and straight legs get me laughing. When she growls, her velvety voice makes the sound more enduring than threatening. I laugh louder. Since she cannot see, I lift a paw up and press it down on her face, knocking her over with a casual movement. She wraps her legs around my paw and gnaws on my toes—occasionally she rakes her back legs along my forearm, but she doesn’t do it with any real force behind her actions.

I quiet my laughter. “What does it matter if you’re dirty? It’s not like you can see the difference.”

Lunette stops her playing and jumps away. With her head held high, she begins cleaning the dirt from her coat. “I can feel it, thank you very much. And a queen should never be filthy. It would sully the good name of cats everywhere.”

“Such arrogant beasts.”

“Felines? I’ll have you know that—” She stops talking and her ears twitch. “Metallo, there is a fox nearby.”

“A fox? How can you be sure?”

“Its tail is bushy and scrapes the grass and leaves as it trots through the detritus. The sound is distinct.”

The birds, river, and wind mix in my ears to create a jumbled mess. I hear no fox. “I would kill it, but my leg will give out if I try to run.”

Lunette frowns. “Did I scratch you too hard?”

I chuckle. “You did not hurt me, cat. This is from the shaheen.”

“When it came to kill me?”

“Yes.”

Lunette tilts her head again and mulls over the statement. “Shaheen are fearsome killers.”

“We are.”

“But cats are cunning.”

“So you say.”

She smiles. “Perhaps we should trick the fox.”

“Oh? You think you can trick a fox?”

“I will lure the beast and you will jump from hiding. Like when you fought the shaheen in the grove.”

I chuckle at the thought. I’ve hunted with my brothers before—coordinating our actions and acting as a team—but none played bait to lure other hunters. The meat of flesh eaters is different than those who consume the grass. The creatures that feed on vegetation are sweeter and fatter. But the meat of the fox is better than nothing.

“Fine,” I say. “Stay close and lure the fox any way you see fit.” I duck behind the mulberry bushes, my black fur mixing with the long shadows of the sunset. I do not have my magic, but I don’t need it for a simple beast.

Lunette stands and walks around, mewing a frightened meow that mimics the call a kitten makes for its mother. It agitates me, but I don’t act on my baser urges. Instead, I wait, my muscles tense. Once the fox gets close, I manage to catch sight of it. I fear the canine may pick up my scent, but the wind is powerful and it will be too late by the time the creature discovers I lie in waiting.

The vibrant red and bright white of the fox is a beautiful sight as it enters the glory of the sun’s crimson hue. Lunette continues her mews. She must know the beast is close, but she makes no indication.

The fox crouches, and then leaps. But not before me.

I meet it midair. I’m six times its size and my power overwhelms it. When I hit the ground, I dig my claws into its gut and slice it open. When the clever animal attempts to scratch my eyes, I snap at its legs and break bone. My last strike is to its throat, cutting the flesh through the fur and draining it of blood.

The beast dies and I step off the corpse to walk over to Lunette. I guide her to the body by pushing her with my muzzle. She huffs and paws my face without using her claws.

“I can figure out where you fought,” she says. “And you’re bloody! You’ve matted my fur!”

I lick her head, smearing slobber and fox blood across her face. She sits stunned and incredulous. Again, I laugh.

“Hmpf!” she says with a huff. “I’ll have you know that cats are not only crafty, but the masters of revenge!”

But I can’t continue with my mirth. Fatigue takes hold. I lie down onto my side, waiting for the darkness. Lunette stops cleaning herself to listen hard. After a moment of silence, she leans down to eat. Like the delicate feline she is, Lunette takes small bites out of the muscle, careful not to get her whiskers soaked in crimson. She swallows and then stops.

“You would let me eat first?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply. “If not for you, we would not be eating. My hearing is not what it once was.”

“Cats and wolves never hunt together.”

“You are no ordinary cat, and I am no ordinary wolf.”

She laughs.

The sun sets fully, disappearing over the horizon. Lunette turns her head toward the fading light and lifts her ears. “They say that creatures who take the Oath of Light never get lost. They say the sun leads them to their one true home and paradise.”

I’ve heard of such tales, but they never mattered to the shaheen. I had a home—with my pack—and I had never planned to leave them.

Lunette twitches her ears. “Do you think… we have a home? Together?”

I let out a long exhale. Shaheen live on the mountain and cats live in the nests of man. Where could we both exist? I do not know the answer. “You think the sun will lead us?” I ask.

“I think we’re whole together.”

Her statement rings true in my broken ears. With her, I can hunt. With me, she is safe. Together we are complete. Together we have no weakness.

“But,” she continues, “we will be happier not as rogues, but as a pack with a home.”

“I have pledged myself to the shadows. I cannot seek guidance from the sun.”

“Then I will take the oath,” she says, holding her head up high. “And then we will find our true home.”

With the strength of the night, I stand. Yesterday I had given up on life, but with the rising of the new moon, I feel that I have never been more alive. In order to take the Oath of Light, we will need to travel far to the east. In order to make a pack, we will need to find a home. And even then, if we find ourselves a territory; we will need to add more to our ranks. The future expands ever outward to a point I can barely comprehend.

And will Lunette become a phoenix, like the birds who take the Oath of Light? Or will she be something different? I do not know.

“Come,” I say. “The night is young, and we have a long ways to go before we die.”


If you want to see more of my short story work, please check out the Aeon Writers anthologies–The Hunt (stories about hunting or being hunted) and Twisted Fairy Tales (stories that re-imagine classic fairy tales).

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